Imagining Printmaking’s Future: Projecting from a Glass Half-Full Perspective

Clockwise from top: Michael Kempson proofing Panda and Bamboo, 2016, a laser cut woodblock made in collaboration with Joseph Scheer from Alfred University, USA; One of four exhibition temples for the thirty-country exhibition International Academic Printmaking Alliance, 2016, Taimiao Art Gallery – Imperial Ancestral Temple, Working People’s Culture Palace, Tiananmen, Beijing, China; part of the Australian contribution to International Academic Printmaking Alliance, 2016, Taimiao Art Gallery – Imperial Ancestral Temple, Working People’s Culture Palace, Tiananmen, Beijing, China.

The following inspired address was delivered by master printer, artist and lecturer Michael Kempson at Australian Printmaking: Past and Present, a forum held at the National Gallery of Victoria on 8 October in celebration of the Print Council of Australia‘s fiftieth anniversary.

When I mentioned to a colleague, the Sydney-based etcher Bruce Latimer, that I was to offer some observations about printmaking’s future at this forum, his response was, ‘well it’s going to be a short talk then’. This droll glass half-empty reaction has developed in part from the irony inherent in the ongoing fascination for printmaking, which continues regardless of how depressing the outlook for it is in the world.

Some of the attitudes espoused by leading figures in the curatorial realm haven’t helped. Riva Castleman, a former Chief Curator of Prints at New York’s Museum of Modern Art wrote, ‘I don’t see printmaking – and never have – as a way of working out the basic problems of art. It’s too fraught with other technical problems.’[1] While her remarks reference the challenges that painters encounter in the interaction between print and painting modes of working, it did result in a horde of printmakers feeling considerably miffed.

Over its long history, printmaking has enjoyed periods of public and institutional acclaim, that compensate for the times when it falls out of favour. So, when printmakers gather rigorous debate will ensue: are we actually enjoying one of those phases of enthusiastic support, or suffering a period of neglect?

Trying to foresee printmaking’s positive cycles is as impossible as the folly of seeking to predict the future. I’m reminded of Fritz Lang’s classic 1927 dystopian fantasy Metropolis. As a vision of life in times to come it was bleakly entertaining, but in the course of even a few decades it proved to be fairly wide of the mark.

This is true of most futuristic depictions in literature and film. While it shouldn’t stop people trying, the limitation implicit is that every attempt to imagine the future is at heart an examination of the present. It’s as true for artists, in their conceptual prognostications, as it is for actuaries or technocrats who trade in forecasts and projections. Furthermore one just can’t foresee the subsequent ramifications of the unexpected shocks that change the world, a conceit embodied in the somewhat convoluted wisdom of Donald Rumsfeld, and his now infamous reference to ‘unknown unknowns’.[2]

The perennial promise of a Federal budget surplus means economists aren’t the great predictors they profess to be either, but they do understand statistics with great clarity. I approached one, Mark Cully, the Chief Economist in the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science in Canberra, to get some authoritative information. Coincidentally, he and I shared a common experience spending our developing years in Elizabeth during the 1960s and early 1970s. Elizabeth, situated in the industrial north of Adelaide, was a purpose built housing commission city for the future, and the first experiment in urban decentralisation in Australia. During this time, it was so mired with planning shortcomings that, with the subsequent social problems, it actually was a dystopian reality.

Imagine Australia when I was a child back in 1971. This was a period in our history when all but one in twenty people described their nationality as British and close to two in three women spent most of their time attending home duties. Among those who were formally employed, there were more priests and ministers of religion than lawyers, more metal trades workers than retail workers, more farmers than teachers. For those not continuing with school, the most common level completed was Year 8. Today, almost all secondary students complete Year 12 and there are around 4 million people with a degree, against 180,000 back in 1971. [3] One pertinent statistic in that year’s census was that 30,600 people identified themselves in the artist/entertainer/writer category; in 2011 the number was 75,800. In a population increase of 70% between 1971 and 2011, the growth in declared artists is 148%.[4]

Could anyone have predicted in the passage of those years such changed circumstances in the labour market or social and educational demographics? What then regarding the core challenges will we face in the future: from the diminishing supply of natural resources, food and water; the decline in the world’s natural habitats; the shifts in the world economy from west to east; an ageing population; and the connectivity immersing individuals, communities, governments and businesses at an ever increasing rate.[5]

The twentieth century ushered in the concept of human capital and the nuanced interplay between demand and supply, characterised in recent economic theory as a race between education and technology.[6] For technology to function a substantial skill-base is required for its development and application, which can only be met through the delivery of appropriate education. While a fiscal race, as an idea garnered in human experience, it can influence other contexts, as is the case in the world of cinema with the all too regular dire imaginings of dystopian scenarios if technology wins. But one can also argue that variants of these ideas have been used in shaping the development of art since the 1960s.

Canadian print artist and academic Walter Jule contributes thoughtfully on art education, particularly on its transformation over the middle and latter stages of the twentieth century. Changes, he says, that came in part as a response to the introduction of photo-mechanical means of reproduction and the subsequent range of influential theories that espouse such esoteric notions as the phenomenological critique and deconstructive post-modernism. He chronicles its effect, a realigning of the focus away from art grounded in a personal or privileged vision and by extension from craft-centred practice and technical virtuosity. Over time art schools began to restructure their programs to serve the paramount notion of the ‘idea’ that drives knowledge-based practice, the core focus of most contemporary visual art institutions in the world today. The resulting effects threatened resource intensive technologies with traditional associations, like printmaking departments, and proved to be detrimental to many of the students who inhabited them, particularly in the early 1980s when I went to art school.

Jule said, ‘The focus on critical theory at the expense of first-hand experience left students with a wealth of received ideas, but often short of the craft, technical skills and visual literacy to express these ideas convincingly in material form.’[7]

Think about the American painter Eric Fischl who peevishly recounts, ‘artists of my generation were not educated, we were not given the equipment for it was generally believed to be irrelevant. Drawing, hand eye co-ordination, art history – really relevant stuff – was considered unnecessary. We were made to feel from day one that we were, fully sprung from the womb, an artist. In fact, it’s incredibly disrespectful of the importance of history that we train people to be amateurs. I deeply resent the kind of flattery that replaced discipline. What experience has shown me is that it takes your life to become an artist.’[8]

Despite this, it is affirming that printmaking over the last fifty years has demonstrated a remarkable resilience. To quote Walter Jule, ‘it has resolutely refused to abandon its traditions and maintained the ability to reflect shifts in critical thought without resorting to extreme or reactionary positions.’[9] This is certainly debatable, for there are printmaking fundamentalists who deny progress by applying strict definitions, initially excluding offset prints and monotypes, and more recently digitally derived work from print exhibitions. While on the other hand there are those in academe and business who are so all encompassing in their definition of a print, or have exploited its nomenclature to such a degree, that it undermines the activity of making them.

While many hope this debate has well and truly moved on, in our changing educational market place – when a student begins to understand their ideas and working method, to explore options in what technology to deploy – their visual vocabulary will be reliant upon the experience and philosophy of their teachers and the resources of their host institution. Rather than just teaching what you know, an educator should be as equally passionate about the printmaking technology of seventh century China, or fifteenth century Europe, to complement the astounding potential to be discovered in the digital realm.

As we observe in the commercial world, Darwinian theory rules. Pressing deadlines mean it’s out with the old and in with the new for those required to maintain a competitive edge. But thankfully a more fluid sense of time reflects the contrary dynamic of the creative impulses found in artistic practice. In preparing students for the best way to communicate visually, individual choice dictates that for many state-of-the-art technology is the perfect vehicle for their ideas. So, with one eye on the future, why then should we bother with the hard physical graft of an arcane technology, when results are achieved with the click of a mouse?

One reason can be in the unique tactility recorded in traditional prints. The haptic manipulation of layering, scraping, cutting and polishing provides an experience of history, offered at an ideal mulling pace, so to best deal with the ‘basic problems of art’. When you work regularly, as I often do, with artists who have never made prints, there are preconceived ideas about what a print should be, but those assumptions change as they focus on the considerable challenge presented in this engagement. During this process, in each and every instance, artists end up inventing the medium anew, relative to their own inner predilections and in response to printmaking’s unique expressive range.[10]

Some however still question the place for traditional disciplines in research based institutions. Academic administrators, often captives to a balance sheet, have asked hard questions following successive cuts in federal funding. Their solutions have trickled down the chain of command, resulting in sporadic pruning of specific print mediums, or the complete removal of printmaking courses altogether from Australian universities. Even more stark is the axing of fine art faculties, as was the case in NSW with Western Sydney University nearly a decade ago, or the BFA program at the University of Newcastle at the beginning of the year, and as recently as a few months ago in the attempt to dismantle Sydney College of the Arts at the University of Sydney.

Despite this, there are structural adjustments slowly taking place in the print world where novel ways are being applied to re-balance the equilibrium and amplify a renewed interest. One benefit of cyberspace is the print networks established for the exchange of ideas and information that often lead to a transition from virtual to actual engagement in forums such as this. Allowing for the sharing of positive stories, such as those I have experienced in Australia and overseas, of people bringing to their teaching optimistic agendas, providing novice printmakers with the enthusiasm to unite material and concept, and sustain a practice into the future – thereby ensuring a future for our practice.

My own story at UNSW Art and Design started grimly in 2004 with a challenging meeting in the Dean’s office giving me a provisional year to prevent the closure of the printmaking department. Cicada Press was born as one way of rethinking the dynamic of personal and creative interaction, within and beyond the classroom. As a custom printing workshop it functions via an elective course, embedding crucial skills-based training in an open interaction with a diverse range of creative approaches offered by our invited artists. The collaborative relationship, inherent between an artist and custom printer, welcomes students into this art making process, who in turn contribute as an integral component in our creative partnership. Cicada Press coalesces dialogue, community, informal interactions and lived experience in learning and hopefully, through personal connection, a foundation for respect and mutual understanding is developed.

From a simple pedagogical experiment that sought to challenge ossified norms found in traditional printmaking instruction, Cicada Press has morphed into a research group at UNSW where the shared desire of its stakeholders is to pursue broader social and ethical goals. These have included: Annual Aboriginal Print Workshops that bring together a diverse range of early- and mid-career Indigenous artists to share and experiment in the dialogue of a new medium; projects aligning printmaking with environmental activism; international engagement that facilitates cross-cultural communication through print practice; and educational opportunities for artists with intellectual and physical disabilities that affirm the value of meaningful educational experiences, often out of reach for many in our society.

After a somewhat perilous beginning, Cicada Press is now a thriving, altruistic printmaking community, using a set of scenarios through the example of making to establish the foundations of a professional network. Combining diverse personalities and intergenerational experiences that nurture, and ultimately test, leadership potential, our students have a framework for life-long learning, so they ‘can deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world’.[11]

One significant prediction for the future, aligned with the race between technology and education, is manifest in the idea of the looming ‘post-work’ society.[12] An outcome, hinted at by futurists, that will see established industries decimated and hard-working, skilled people made unemployable, with the millions of manufacturing jobs that will be shed by technologies such as 3D printing. An antidote to this world requires a trait that is distinctly human – creativity. With secure jobs no longer assured, as more and more physical and mental tasks are commandeered by machines and software, why not actively encourage our future generations to go to art school, with the promise of a life of self-discovery? To create a world where we foster ideas to keep pace with technological advancements, by exercising the muscles of our imagination, ‘honing the skill that best ensures adaptability and resourcefulness during times of constant change’.[13]

We will always be heading into an unpredictable future so printmakers, like economists, should appreciate that there are valuable lessons to be learnt from history. To understand the phenomenal achievement of engineering found in the transition from traditional then photomechanical and now digital technologies, and in the science of how we combine pigment, oil, and water with paper, under pressure, to package and broadly circulate innovative ideas.

The incessant reminder of progress, apparent in a print studio, prepares us for the inevitability that things will and must change. However, in the same way that photography didn’t kill painting, despite the prediction of prophets as far back as the nineteenth century, many superseded print technologies continue to beguile; because the value isn’t in our ability to efficiently render images, but in the artist’s capacity, using all our six senses, to convey a unique viewpoint.

‘Most of us don’t actually see dead people but we do enjoy long enduring conversations with them through the products of culture. While it is true that artists learn as much from objects and the making of them as we do from people, we still need teachers in the studio because we must experience knowledge embodied in action.’[14] We all benefit from cherished mentors who have offered guidance and example at just the right time in our lives, but we should always remember that we are all both teachers and students depending upon the circumstances.

The best way to prepare the next generation to be informed and articulate contributors in this conversation is to teach them how to: understand history; find a mentor; build supportive networks; question current orthodoxy; be suspicious of prophets; believe in themselves; and be open to all the mediums of printmaking’s lexicon, within an expanded collegial structure for print education.

This includes all organisations dedicated to the exacting demands of nurturing an ongoing culture of connoisseurship for the print: from community studios and editioning workshops; museums and commercial galleries; the forums and symposia that set the agenda; the remaining print programs of our tertiary institutions; and most importantly, in its fiftieth year, our peak body, the Print Council of Australia.

To paraphrase that champion of rear-guard actions, the amateur painter Winston Churchill, ‘we shape our future, thereafter our future shapes us’. So instead of waiting dolefully for the next great print renaissance, let’s set aside fantasy. The time for action is now, and it is up to us to make it happen.

NOTES

[1] Riva Castleman, ‘New Prints of Worth: A Question of Taste’, The Print Collector’s Newsletter, Vol. 10, no. 4, 1979, p. 110.

[2] ‘Defense.gov News Transcript: DoD News Briefing – Secretary Rumsfeld and Gen. Myers, United States Department of Defense (defense.gov)‘.

[3] Mark Cully, ‘Industry and Workforce Futures’, CEDA – State of the Nation Conference address, 2015.

[4] 2011 Census Community Profiles, censusdata.abs.gov.au

[5] Stefan A Hajkowicz;Hannah Cook; Anna Littleboy, Our Future World: Global megatrends that will change the way we live, 2012, CSIRO, Australia.

[6] Claudia Goldin and Laurence Katz, The Race Between Education and Technology, 2008, Belknap Press.

[7] Walter Jule, ‘Survival tips for young artists in changing times’, 2015, keynote address for the Southern Graphics Council International, Knoxville, Tennessee, USA.

[8] Eric Fischl in ‘Fischl’s Italian Hours’, Frederic Tuten, Art in America, November 1996, p. 79.

[9] Walter Jule, ‘Survival tips for young artists in changing times’, 2015, keynote address for the Southern Graphics Council International, Knoxville, Tennessee, USA.

[10] From ideas linked to Walter Jule, ‘Survival tips for young artists in changing times’, 2015, keynote address for the Southern Graphics Council International, Knoxville, Tennessee, USA.

[11] Richard Shaull, foreword to Paolo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Thirtieth Anniversary Edition, 2005, Continuum, New York.

[12] Dustin Timbook, ‘If you want your children to survive the future, send them to art school’, Huffington Post, Feb 2, 2016.

[13] Dustin Timbook, ‘If you want your children to survive the future, send them to art school’, Huffington Post, Feb 2, 2016.

[14] Walter Jule, ‘Survival tips for young artists in changing times’, 2015, keynote address for the Southern Graphics Council International, Knoxville, Tennessee, USA.

Michael Kempson is an artist and senior lecturer at UNSW Art and Design in Sydney. Since 2003, Kempson has initiated print-based research projects with over 200 artists at Cicada Press and curated over fifty exhibitions in the Asia-Pacific region. His upcoming solo exhibition Play Time will open at Flinders Street Gallery, Surry Hills, on 20 October, 6 pm.

2016 PCA Print Commission Q&A: Gwen Scott

‘I have spent years appreciating prints and printmaking and have collected a lot of Australian printmakers work but now it’s my turn to produce some of my own prints, I’m loving the deep and meaningful relationship I have with mixing up the inks, printing and getting surprised!’

Why do you make art?

Creating and appreciating art has always been part of my life. The process of creating something brings a lot of joy, calm and relaxation. I use colour a lot because that’s what really attracts me. Mixing and splashing paint or ink around is a lot of fun. Losing all sense of time and concentrating on something so intensely (but more often obsessively) is something that I enjoy doing.

Raised by artistic parents I saw my parents spend long periods of time in their studios and so was influenced greatly by their lifestyle, creative processes and joy of art.

What’s your relationship to printmaking?

I have spent years appreciating prints and printmaking and have collected a lot of Australian printmakers’ work but now it’s my turn to produce some of my own prints. I’m loving the deep and meaningful relationship I have with mixing up the inks, printing and getting surprised!

How did you get interested in printmaking?

Through books on Rembrandt and William Blake and seeing prints by Lionel Lindsay, Thea Proctor, Eric Thake, Margaret Preston and Barbara Hanrahan at the Art Gallery of NSW when I was a teenager. My appreciation of printmaking has been ongoing for decades but my practice of it is more recent.

My practice didn’t manifest itself until well after art school. I did the compulsory semester of printmaking but it didn’t inspire me, so I majored in painting and drawing and spent numerous years after art school practicing painting, drawing, needlepoint tapestry and mosaics. Over the years I did revisit my rudimentary printmaking skills through workshops and short courses. However, the dedication and time wasn’t there. It wasn’t until 2010 when I had the time to focus on doing more and playing around with colour that I got hooked.

After retiring from working as a librarian for over twenty-five years, the last two and a half years have been spent developing my skill with linocutting and the reduction technique. The problem-solving aspect, the use of colour and the surprise effect you get using the reduction technique fascinates me.

How did you approach making your submission for the PCA Print Commission?

I had been working on a new body of work on the theme of Pomona and just worked further on that for the PCA commission. All the prints in this new series are colour reduction prints, so my intention was to produce a reduction print if selected. Initially, I submitted three prints that I liked the best from my new series for the first round of judging. Then when I had to produce a bon a tirer (B.A.T.) I chose to do a detailed colour gouache on paper in the dimensions of the intended print. Along with the gouache I submitted a Pomona print that I had done previously to show evidence of my work. Finally, I set about completing the artist’s proofs and the edition together as this was the only way I could do my reduction print unless I wanted to do it twice!

Whose work have you been enjoying lately?

A trip to Sydney this year to see the Grayson Perry show was a treat but discovering the work of an African artist El Anatsui at Carriageworks was even more inspirational. His large-scale installations of repurposed materials are sublime and at the same time tragic, a commentary on human waste and resourcefulness.

Where do you go for inspiration?

My immediate environment provides a plethora of motifs to work from so it starts there and the simple act of walking a few kilometres provides a wealth of imaginative ideas. Also, art books, art galleries and museums, the internet, music and film. My favourite interests are: surrealism, english landscape painting, the arts and crafts movement, animal art, early european tapestries and roman and greek mosaics.

What are you working on now?

A small edition for the PCA Inaugural print exchange, an edition for Australian Print Workshop‘s Impressions show as well as a solo show at the Boulevard@ Montsalvat in November.

To view this year’s commission prints visit the PCA website, pick up a copy of the spring 2016 issue of Imprint (Vol. 51 No. 3), or visit one of the participating venue galleries listed below:

Seven Reflections on Uses for Printmaking

Earlier today Trent Walter, director of Negative Press, and artist John Nixon discussed Nixon’s print works as part of the special forum Australian Printmaking: Past and Present at the National Gallery of Victoria. In celebration of the PCA’s fiftieth anniversary, the forum involved a range of curators, practitioners and printers discussing printmaking both in terms of its history and contemporary practice. The following text is the transcript from Trent Walter‘s recent keynote speech delivered at Orogeny Print Symposium, hosted by the Tasmanian College of the Arts and the Henry Jones Art Hotel, 9–11 September, and expands nicely upon this idea of uses for printmaking in the present. 

I’d like to begin by thanking Jan Hogan for inviting me to talk with you all this morning. I would also like to thank Christine Scott for hosting me at the Henry Jones Art Hotel during my brief stay in Hobart. And finally, a hearty congratulations to all the artists exhibited at the Plimsoll Gallery as part of the symposium.

 

Sister Corita’s workshop

In searching my hard drive for images in preparation for this address, I came across Sister Corita Kent’s Immaculate Heart College Art Department Rules. It was something I reprinted for an exhibition at Monash University Museum of Art in 2014, and Corita’s attitude has remained with me. For those unaware of her work, Sister Corita was a pioneering, politically motivated artist and educator who made over 800 screenprint editions during her working life, after she entered the religious order Immaculate Heart of Mary.

Her ‘rules’, which include an emphasis on the line ‘The Only Rule is Work’ have inspired me to record these seven reflections on uses for printmaking. My reflections are by no means exhaustive, but they mirror my own experiences and preoccupations as an artist, printer and publisher working with printed matter. The theme of this symposium, Orogeny, also suggests a palimpsest: literally a series of stories written on top of each other, or old grounds rising to the surface. The stories I will now relate aim to peel back some of these layers and reveal substance to the traces, in this case artworks, that are what visibly remain.

Sister Corita Kent’s Immaculate Heart College Art Department Rules.

Reflection number 1: Why make a print?

I ask this question to my students at Monash University. Predominantly students of communication design, they are well versed in creating content digitally. In this environment, print is a method of output. Colours are tested on screen and content is added and deleted. Why make a print? I should say from the outset that I love the flexibility that digital technology has given to artists and I use it myself constantly. Though I am skeptical of the often thoughtless output of digital artwork. Actually, if I’m being honest, I have reservations about the thoughtless making of analogue prints too. Does their materiality make them relevant? Occasionally. Though I believe printmaking in general has more feeling when its content relates to its form.

Trent Walter, Untitled, 2016, installation view.

This work, Untitled, 2016, is currently on display in a lightbox at RMIT University. The lightbox is an excellent technical solution for the artwork as it mirrors the backlight of the computer screen that the image was made on. I’ll admit that this happened fortuitously, though I am pleased by the result.

***

An artist I admire greatly is Christopher Day, whose book New Reading Order was published by Negative Press earlier this year and launched at the National Gallery of Victoria’s Art Book Fair.

Day’s practice is photo-based, though he is weary of pigeonholing himself by the medium he works mostly within. He shoots analogue and digital images. The digital ones are manipulated, making multi-layered, fantastical imagery that he prints digitally. We spent a week in Honk Kong and China, proofing his book in Shenzen and photographing Honk Kong island on night walks. In our various meetings we tend to discuss the nature of photography and a subject that recurs is the anachronism of printing digital images in the darkroom. In this respect, does the same anachronism apply to photo-mechanical printmaking processes? I would argue that it does and that these processes cannot pretend to be photography, but that photographic imagery can be the basis for incredible printmaking.

To my students and at my studio, Negative Press, I would suggest that a good reason for making a print is that there is no other way to execute the work: that it is the most practical and simplest way to achieve the artist’s intention.

I have worked on two projects with the Melbourne based artist Rosie Isaac. Both works are based around the performance of a script. Speaking in the Abstract required Isaac to construct an oversize concertina-type ‘book’ that was large enough for her actors to read while performing its content.

Here are some other views of the performance:

Rosie Isaac, Speaking in the Abstract, 2014.

For Through flooding: A silent choral reading performed as part of Brainlina at Next Wave, Isaac produced another script that was screenprinted, again in a concertina, on folded sheets of roll paper. Her requirement was for the scripts to be the same length as the audience rows that were approximately 4 metres long.

Rosie Isaac, Through flooding: A silent choral reading, 2016.

Isaac also needed the scripts to be perforated, as the script directed the audience to follow its silent direction of tearing them down at said perforation. We used printmaking, specifically screenprinting, to make these books because it was the most practical way to print repeated text on light weight paper. Unsurprisingly, it also made them a beautiful object, though they were effectively torn into pieces by their reading and performance.

Reflection number 2: The matrix is all around you.

Simryn Gill is an artist whose work revolves around collection. For decades she has combed the beaches around her family’s home of Port Dickson, Malaysia. Simryn has made relief and screenprint works at different stages of her career, though is most well known for her photographic series, her sculptural assemblages (often involving found objects and printed pages)

Simryn Gill, Pearls, 1999. courtesy of the artist and Utopia Art, Sydney.

and for representing Australia at the Venice Biennale in 2013. Around 3 years ago, Simryn and I began discussing a woodblock printing project that would use as its matrices a series of found pieces of timber from the beaches of Port Dickson washed up from the Malacca Straight.

Simryn Gill, Pressing In, 2016, work in progress. Courtesy of the artist and Utopia Art, Sydney.

Often derived from boats, these degraded pieces of wood were water-blasted to rid them of rot and to stabilise their surface for printing. After various conversations about shipping them to Melbourne to put through the press, we decided their surfaces were too gnarly, and the rigmarole around bringing a container of untreated timber from Malaysia to Australia, too onerous. The solution was for me to travel to Port Dickson and work with Simryn at her home/studio and print everything by hand.

Simryn Gill, Pressing In, 2016, work in progress. Courtesy of the artist and Utopia Art, Sydney.

Early tests proved that the baren was too wide to pick up the traces of grain and sea smoothed and animal interventions in the wood. The solution was found in the humble bone folder, and over the course of two weeks we printed scores of recovered objects of various sizes: some smaller than a smartphone, and others requiring several sheets of printed, A3 notebook paper to contain their form. The results, Simryn feels, are like texts and the process of our rubbings closer to handwriting than printing. The paper holds our touch and it is as though the paper receiving the crisp ink from our rubbing has revived the worn, wooden objects.

Simryn is not an artist who will speak directly about the meaning of her work. Like many artists, she wants the audience to engage with it, its materiality and content, to draw their own conclusions. Though in this series of works it is difficult to avoid the reference to what is cast or discarded into the sea, only to return battered and worn to the mass refugee crisis occurring globally, and its effects and ramifications locally, in Australia.

I had a call from Simryn yesterday saying that we had printed 160 small individual works, among the scores of larger pieces and composite ‘stacks’ we made. Despite the large volume of work produced, Simryn thinks that it is the beginning of a larger project, that will include an artist book and texts interspersed within the printed pages.

The first showing of this project, which is titled Pressing In, opens next Friday [16 September] at Griffith University Gallery.

Reflection number 3: The aim of the workshop is to meet and work together. Any tangible outcome is of secondary importance.

Workshop: If People Powered Radio, 2016. Photograph by Christian Capurro.

Late last year I was invited by Helen Hughes to work on a remaking project of posters from the archive of 3CR community radio to be presented at Gertrude Contemporary. In 2016, 3CR celebrates forty years of broadcasting. In their own words, ‘The radio station was established in 1976 to provide a voice for those denied access to the mass media, particularly the working class, women, Indigenous people and the many community groups and community issues discriminated against in and by the mass media.’

Despite the incredible depth of the 3CR archive of posters, handbills and ephemera, my conversations with Helen moved away from a strictly remaking project to something involving public space. The work already exists, I thought, why make a print? Over time my thoughts coalesced around the idea of conducting a ‘workshop’ in the exhibition space. This is, by no means, an original idea.

The Narrows, Printworkshop, 2008, (top) Bianca Hester & Oscar Yanez, (centre) Launch, Marco Fusinato,
(bottom) Parsing by Susuan Jacobs and Scott Miles. Photograph by Warren Taylor.

The Narrows, a well-loved Melbourne gallery that was interested in the overlap of art and design while preferencing neither, held an exhibition/project called Printworkshop in 2008. As part of this project artists were invited to work in the gallery to make a book in a day using a laptop and photocopier, on paper designed by the artist Matt Hinkley.

Ciara Phillips was nominated for the 2014 Turner Prize for her project Workshop at The Showroom in London, in which she exhibited multiple screenprints and a large-scale print on cotton. She also used the gallery as a site for making work, and exploring the idea of ‘making together’.

For the project Cutting Mirrors at c3 Contemporary Art Space, I was invited to relocate part of Negative Press into the gallery and collaborated with Renee Cosgrave and Elizabeth Newman on a series of monotypes and artist books. While the project transferred the workshop into a public space, the content that was created in the space did not reflect its environment in any way.

Workshop: If People Powered Radio, 2016. Photograph by Christian Capurro.

For Workshop: If People Powered Radio, I wanted to draw attention to the social aspects of the print studio, with particular reference to poster collectives that have a rich history in Australia. It was not about teaching the process of screenprinting (though that may be an unintended consequence of the project) or even finishing with a tangible result. The theme of this reflection ‘The aim of the workshop is to meet and work together. Any tangible outcome is of secondary importance,’ was a line I told the group of assembled participants before we started working. Our meeting together, in and of itself, defined the project’s success.

Workshop: If People Powered Radio, 2016. Photograph by Christian Capurro.

Large scale screenprinting by hand requires a collective effort, that mirrors the nature of activism and collectivism championed by 3CR and its community. The movement of passing the squeegee from one set of hands to another reinforces this. It is shared making, collective effort and responsibility and while I have convened the workshop, the author of the work is the group.

Workshop: If People Powered Radio was conducted over 2 days in the main gallery of Gertrude Contemporary. Spiros Panigirakis, artist and co-curator of the exhibition, remade the boardroom of 3CR in this room. It included a board table with printed ephemera under sheets of Perspex and posters and photographs from the archive from key moments in the organisation’s history on the wall. In preparation for our collective making, I put together a reader gleaned from research into 3CR’s organisational structure and history as a primer for our group to make poster’s that reflected this history. In many respects it was the ideal space to make this work, surrounded by the archive.

The results were interesting, and ultimately two days was too short for this kind of art making, however as I have said the aim of the workshop is to meet and work together. Any tangible outcome is of secondary importance.

Workshop: If People Powered Radio, 2016. Photograph by Christian Capurro.

To attract participants/collaborators for Workshop: If People Powered Radio I sent a callout to artists and their networks. I wanted to work with people without a broad knowledge of 3CR and its activities. I ended up with a group of people who I knew–Emily Floyd, Rosie Isaac, Saskia Doherty, Jaime Powell, Natalie Rambaldi and Olivia Koh. All are excellent artists in their own right and I appreciate their dedication and involvement in this project.

I am currently working on plans for an extended series of Workshop projects in regional towns, as a meeting place, a community space, a venue for people to express themselves: all of which align with the aims of 3CR. I believe to be successful in these new environments Workshop needs to be convened outside of the institution, and occupy a shop front or some other neutral, independent space.

As an aside, I think the thread of this reflection echoes my feelings about art school, that it is the interactions and collective experiences that are valuable, more so than what is physically produced. The record of these interactions is only our memory. In the streamlining of fine art courses across the country, disciplines are being neglected for a theoretically centred pedagogy. While I am in favour of theory, I don’t think it should be at the expense of disciple, or of the collective studio experience essential to the growth of early career artists.

Reflection number 4: It’s a thin line between remaking and reproduction.

Debates surrounding notions of the ‘original’ and the ‘copy’ abound in print related practice. It is impossible to avoid these ideas when remaking works. From an art market perspective, there are more and more art businesses coming up that sell so-called ‘contemporary editions’. Some are bone fide original works, output digital. Sadly, most are reproductions sold as limited art editions that command high prices. They ignore printmaking’s key tenets: the democratisation of artwork through low-cost editions; and the unique, craft based attributes of fine art printmaking. It is the cause of much negative press around print related processes. If the general public are confused about what constitutes an original artwork in the print medium, what luck do they have of understanding the true nature of ‘contemporary editions’ as proposed by these businesses?

Elizabeth Newman, Collateral Damage, 2013.
Courtesy of the artist and Neon Parc, Melbourne.

In 2013, Negative Press published two editions with Elizabeth Newman, Collateral Damage and Untitled. Both are approximately 110 x 80 cm and are a combination of digital printing and five screenprinted colours. The works were made specifically for a collage exhibition titled In the cut at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art in Melbourne, curated by Hannah Mathews. In making these works, Newman and I discussed how we could collage processes rather than physically collage paper, with the artwork’s surface left intentionally flat.

These works derived from dozens of smaller collages Newman made over the course of 2013. In essence, we have remade the collage as a printed edition. There is a thin line between remaking and reproduction. Have I made with Newman the same type of work I have just rebuked?

In making large woodblock prints with Helen Frankenthaler, Ken Tyler made sure that Frankenthaler worked up her image on a woodblock. They kind of look like paintings, the whole image is there, but they are not paintings: they were not valued and were treated like working images. Tyler, in this instance, was aware of the issues surrounding remaking and reproduction and avoided them via this process.

When making these works with Elizabeth Newman, I suggested we destroy the collages the prints were based on. Or that we should somehow reduce them to a mock-up or working image. It was not truthful, and can’t disguise the origin of these works. Newman has said that the prints are better than the collages. I feel like they are some of the best prints I’ve ever made with an artist. They are original works in so much as the colours have shifted, the surface of the elements changed, though I still think about them in the context of the conversations surrounding remaking and reproduction in the field of printmaking.

Reflection number 5: Where is the edition?

There are two works that I made recently that forgo the edition altogether: the matrix becomes the work. The first are a series of copper plates made for Nicholas Mangan based on his investigation of the conflict surrounding the copper mines in Bougainville.

Nicholas Mangan, Progress in Action, 2016, installation view Sutton Gallery at Spring 1883.
Courtesy of the artist and Sutton Gallery Melbourne. Photograph by Andrew Curtis.

In the artist’s own words:

Progress in Action reflects upon the 1989 civil war on the Pacific Island of Bougainville; a war that lasted over ten years and was ignited over disputed land use, ownership and compensation claims for land damage. This conflict was catalyzed by the imposing Panguna Copper Mine. As a result, conflict broke out between the indigenous landowners of Bougainville some of who formed the Bougainville Revolutionary Army (BRA) and Rio Tinto Copper operating as (Bougainville Copper ltd) in collaboration with the PNG government and Army.

 … Progress in Action pays homage to the BRA’s use of coconuts as an alternative source of fuel through the construction of a provisional coconut oil refinery that is used to produce coconut bio-fuel that powers a modified diesel generator. The electricity produced by the generator supplies power to a projector, which in turn screens a film about the events. This film features imagery of the very material that is at the core of the project: the Bougainville crisis. It is a portrayal of energy in exchange; a series of actions and reactions, flows and interruptions.

 

These copper works continue this creative rationale, imaging the cover of the Bougainville Copper Limited’s prospectus and a topographic map of the disputed mine sites onto the very material at the centre of the conflict.

Tomorrow afternoon [11 September] is the launch of a public art project Standing by Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheenner by Brook Andrew and I. It will be a momentous occasion as it is the first time a government body (in this case City of Melbourne) has recognised the frontier wars and resistance against invasion by Indigenous people via a public monument. Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheenner were part of a group of Tasmanians that travelled to the colonies of Port Phillip (now Victoria) with the so-called ‘protector’ of Aborigines, George Augustus Robinson. Along with Truganini, Planobeena and Pyterruner, Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheenner absconded from Robinson’s watch and travelled to Western Port where they took up arms, raided settler huts, and eventually killed two whalers.

They were hunted, captured and tried for murder and received an unfair trial. And despite lesser sentences being proposed by the jury and prosecution, by order of the trial judge they were the first people to be publicly executed in Victoria close to the location where the monument now exists. They lived in a time when to be black meant you could be shot on site. Tunnerminnerwait’s people were massacred at Cape Grim. Travelling with Robinson in Victoria, the group were aware of the Convincing Ground massacre near Portland. One of the whalers, in his dying words said ‘it serves me right, for I have killed many blacks’. It highlights issues around colonial ‘justice’ and uncovers one of many stories that our nation is founded upon.

The monument we have made has many aspects, including medicinal plantings, a solid bluestone tomb that is attached to a metal swing. Behind the swing structure is a series of newspaper stands that contain lithographic and etched aluminium plates that are filled with texts relating to the story of Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheenner.

Our original idea for the newsstands was to relate a more in-depth overview of this history in the form of a newspaper that could be accessed by the public. As this is a permanent artwork (which I believe means it will be maintained for fifty years), printing so many copies of a newspaper was deemed impractical. The second idea was to make a publication, and then use the litho printing plates to make newspaper-like sculptures. Though again, our timeline and budget meant that this was not possible. Ultimately, we settled on creating a series of signs, that relate the story of Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheenner and the significance of the site, while still referencing the materials of printing and making something that should last fifty years at least. While it appears like it required a series of compromises to finalise this part of the work, formally it is more cohesive in the context of the site. The text panels also remind me of the various signs on properties along the north coast of Tasmania we visited in researching this work: those that directed us to the site, those of the Van Diemen’s Land Company who own the properties at Cape Grim and their signs that threatened us with prosecution for walking on Aborignal land.

Reflection number 6: Technique is not overrated/Agency shouldn’t be ignored.

Brent Harris‘s studio wall of works in progress.

Last Thursday I delivered a new edition to Brent Harris’ studio. Harris is an artist with a long history of making prints alongside his painting practice. Images are remade, recontextulised and reused between his works. In 2012, Harris made a series of 100 reductive monotypes called The Fall. The figures that populated those intimate works have become the basis of his print and painting practice over the past four years.

Brent Harris, The Problem, 2015, Print Council of Australia fundraiser edition.

As a fundraiser for the Print Council of Australia last year, Harris and I completed our first collaboration. The Problem uses an inverted image from a monotype that didn’t make it into The Fall series. It is produced with an intaglio photopolymer plate and three screenprinted colours. We attempted the work as four screenprinted layers, but the finished print lacked depth, specifically in the inverted monotype image. We were both thrilled with the final result, despite its technical challenges of shrinking paper and fine registration. Brent has chronicled the process of making the work on his website, and it was also published on the Imprint blog, so I won’t go into further detail here.

The Problem has now led us to embark on a series of five new works, the most recent of which is called The Other Side.

Brent Harris works in progress 2016.

Again it is made with a photopolymer plate and two screenprinted layers. What I find so alluring about Harris’s print is the image he has conjured from the characters he has wiped out of a rolled up plate. I am also partial to the craft aspects of the finished work; the integration of print processes to affect the viewer’s interpretation of the picture planes; and the dark intensity of the intaglio element versus the light intensity of the screenprinted layers. They are formal concerns that support his conceptual interests.

Perhaps the opposite finish of Harris’s prints is found in the student posters of the Atelier Populaire.

Atelier Populaire, Capital, 1968.

The Atelier Populaire, or popular workshop, was established when students and faculty staff took over the Ecole des Beaux Arts during the student protests in Paris in May 1968. Of the hundreds of posters created, no artists or designers are credited: all posters were attributed to the Atelier Populaire.

In the workshop’s own words, the posters were to be ‘weapons in the service of the struggle … an inseparable part of it. Their rightful place [was] in the centres of conflict, that is to say, in the streets and on the walls of the factories’. One famous poster translated as: ‘The police post themselves at the School of Fine Arts – the Fine Arts’ students poster the streets.’

These posters function as activism and eschew the aesthetics of fine art printing in the service of political agency, directly communicating their purpose through their formal qualities.

The seventh reflection requires no explanation and draws us back to Sister Corita’s proclamation that ‘The Only Rule is Work’!

John Nixon is a Melbourne based artist who is prolific in his practice as a painter and experimental musician. He fronts a band called ‘The Donkey’s Tail’ and exhibits nationally and internationally several times each year. I can also reveal that he has an extensive collection of Australian pottery bought in opportunity shops and a library of books and records that would be the envy of any bibliophile or vinyl junkie. Nixon is so prolific that he has filled to overflowing a massive studio and storage facility at the back of his house in Briar Hill. It got to the point where he was painting on an outdoor table because he had run out of room.

Along the way, Nixon has also dabbled in printmaking.

John Nixon print archive documentation.

He refers to it as a side project, though he has been characteristically prolific in this field also. Early this year I helped Nixon catalogue 180 separate images, some existing as editions and others unique, created over the past thirty years. These works comprise of small etchings, screenprints, commercially printed posters, potato prints, relief prints, lithographs and xerox works.

Alongside this cataloguing, we have also embarked on making some new screenprints and small etchings. The majority of Nixon’s etchings were made when he taught at the Victorian College of the Arts in Melbourne in the early nineties, in his lunch break. We now meet each Tuesday in the print studio between 1 pm and 2 pm (also his lunch break between four-hour long morning and afternoon classes), grounding up plates, etching and printing. We’ve made five small plates in our last two short sessions.

Nixon’s prolificacy is a reflection of his enjoyment in making work: it’s the reason why so many of us make prints, though as artists, and particularly as artists who make prints, I believe we need to balance our enjoyment and interest in craft with well considered conceptual responses to the content we are working with.

Thank you.

Trent Walter is an artist, printer and publisher interested in the intersection of contemporary art and printed matter. In his artwork, Walter combines multiple readymade sources (textual, pictorial and/or sculptural) to explore narrative, history and intersecting time.

Through his studio, Negative Press, Walter commissions artists to create projects made through the lens of expanded print practices. 

2016 PCA Print Commission Q&A: Rochelle Summerfield

‘My first love of printmaking was etching and collagraphs printed as intaglio. I loved the rich textures and depth of tone. I discovered collage, and print matter generally, and have developed photography and digital skills. With a love of both classic media and digital technologies, combining these skills seemed quite a natural evolution.’

Why do you make art?

I feel happy when I draw and make art. It enriches my life and gives it meaning. It helps me work out how to see and be in this world – it is my way of connecting.

What’s your relationship to printmaking?

To me, printmaking is a variety of methods, skills and approaches – textures, marks, tonal properties, everyday print matter and mass media – that I can draw upon to make work.

How did you get interested in printmaking?

I began exploring printmaking as part of my degree at Southern Cross University. My first love of printmaking was etching and collagraphs printed as intaglio. I loved the rich textures and depth of tone. I discovered collage, and print matter generally, and have developed photography and digital skills. With a love of both classic media and digital technologies, combining these skills seemed quite a natural evolution.

Who is your favourite artist?

I will have to say three artists in particular – Arcimboldo, Hannah Höch and Max Ernst. Arcimboldo for teaching me how to make pictures as puzzles – through his work I realised that was how I see the world! Hannah Höch for teaching me a way to make pictures about women that are relevant now; and Max Ernst for teaching me how to combine collage within a background, in works such as his famous surrealist novel in collage Une Semaine de Bonté.

Where do you go for inspiration?

Several places generate inspiration for me. When I make work, I find collage stimulates new ways of looking and thinking about things and not just cut-and-paste, collage-type processes. Living in Seelands and looking right onto the mighty Clarence River with its wonderful birdlife has been a source for inspiration and renewal.

In my practice I find artist residencies are really good for inspiration, being in a new place and talking art with other like-minded souls (families can get quite sick of that type of talk!) For new ideas on what is happening in art beyond the regional I look at contemporary artists’ work, installations in metropolitan galleries and online.

What are you working on now?

I am working on drawings for a site specific installation. It’s going to be a billboard, so is extending me and my work in scale. It will be installed in Victoria Park, as part of ‘Future/Public’, Artlands, Dubbo 2016. I am one of ten artists selected for an exhibition of propositional public artworks to be on display in various venues for the Artlands Regional Arts Conference, 27–30 October, 2016.

To view this year’s commission prints visit the PCA website, pick up a copy of the spring 2016 issue of Imprint (Vol. 51 No. 3), or visit one of the participating venue galleries listed below:

Terminus: in search of an (im)possible conclusion

Images from top to bottom: Melanie McKeePlication II, reverie between two places, 2016, solvent transfer on polyester, dimensions variable; Monika LukowskaImmersed in coal II, 2016, digital print, 68 x 143 cm; Monika Lukowska and Melanie McKeeTraversing the Terminus II, 2016, digital print, 30 x 155 cm; Monika Lukowska and Melanie McKeeTraversing the Terminus III, 2016, digital print, 30 x 109 cm.

This essay, written by Dr Ann Schilo, has been produced for the exhibition ‘Terminus’ at Paper Mountain, Northbridge, WA, 6 October – 22 October. There will be an opening celebration on Wednesday 5 October, 6 pm, and an artist talk on Saturday 15 October, 1 pm. 

A terminus is a place of arrival and departure – an airport concourse, a train station, a bus depot, a port-of-call – that is often the end point of a journey. As travellers, wayfarers, strangers or welcomers, we have all been there, physically and emotionally drawn into its machinations. As a physical location, the terminus is a noisy place of transit. Marc Augé contends such spaces are ‘non-places’[1]. They are zones of mobility whose architectural forms and configurations present a generic view of the world, a nowhere but everywhere that people pass through on their way to somewhere. For many migrants and refugees, the terminus is not just a physical place of embarkation but a metaphoric location. It can be both an ending and a beginning, offering incalculable moments of transition and possibility as the memories of the past succumb to the cacophonous dreams and desires for the future.

Having arrived here from elsewhere, both Melanie McKee and Monika Lukowska imagine Perth as a kind of terminus. Yet unlike Augé’s contention that it is a generic ‘non-place’, they picture its unique characteristics as a location of affective and embodied sensibilities. Drawing upon their experiences of residing in differing locales, they render the paradoxical senses of dislocation and belonging as they try to become emplaced. Individually and in collaboration, they mobilise their artistic expertise to respond to the specificities of living here, in this place, as it tugs at their memories, emotions and desires. Thus this exhibition offers an appreciation of the affective dimensions of emplacement and the material conditions of knowing our place in the world through the practices of two women artists as they picture their (im)possible terminus.

Melanie McKee whose family migrated here after being dispossessed of their home farm, Marston, in Zimbabwe, uses a combination of printmaking, digital photography and plain sewing techniques to explore the personal and historical narratives that surround her sense of both displacement and home making. Stitching together memories of the lost homestead, family stories, and understandings drawn from her doctoral studies, McKee creates highly accomplished and engaging works that evoke more than a memorial to the past or a passing nostalgic reverie. Rather she presents ways of reconciling there and then with the here and now. Such conjunctions of space and time can be seen in works like Plication I and Plication II, reverie between two places in which fabric – overlaid with solvent transferred, fragmented images of Marston and Perth – is pleated into a placed tactile intimacy. The plain sewing – a skill learnt from her grandmother – reflects a generational passage of time, while the printed images convey a fleeting familiarity with places lived and experienced.

Considering the affects of living far from her home town Katowice in Poland while undertaking doctoral studies, Monika Lukowska portrays her experiences of place making as she comes to terms with two radically different locations. The combination of lithography and digital technologies provides Lukowska with a perfect vehicle for picturing the particularities of each cityscape, their surface appearances, architectural forms, textures and emotive resonances. Her works not only reveal her deft skills as a printmaker but also highlight her sensitive apprehension of the material conditions of these differing environments. Lukowska‘s evocation of place can be seen in works like Immersed in coal I, and Nikiszowiec II, where the comfortable familiarity of coal soot that dusts Katowice’s cityscape provides a visual leitmotif for rendering her sense of place. In these works the embodied experiences and memories of over there are collaged into the present realities of now from the viewpoint of here in Perth.

Working together for the first time, McKee and Lukowska bring together a rich and potent understanding of the complex experiences of contemporary nomadic lifestyles, the interplay of memories and everyday realities that are imagined through the sensate material world. In their collaborative work Traversing the Terminus I, II and III the individual artists’ concerns for a sensed apprehension of places are brought into dialogue to create a poetics of transition. This panorama of stilled moments in time and space is pleated into a subtlety nuanced meditation, one that transcends nostalgia and sentimentality. Through rendering the light, textures and other aspects of the environmental locale in which they find themselves, these two artists picture a personal and intimate portrayal of this place as they create a home in the here and now.

In keeping with McKee and Lukowska‘s contention that places are understood through embodied sensitivities, while we may not be able to smell the soot as it coats Silesia’s architecture, nor taste the fruit in the lost orchard left behind, nor hear the sounds of unfamiliar languages as we migrate to new destinations, through the art works in this exhibition we can appreciate those desires and affective experiences that are to be found when travelling through the terminus.

Note

[1] Augé, Marc, Non-Places: Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity, Verso, London, 1995.

Dr Ann Schilo is a senior lecturer in the School of Design and Art at Curtin University. She is a co-supervisor of the doctoral studies of both Melanie McKee and Monika Lukowska.

A Postcard from Beth Evans: The Hungarian Multicultural Centre

Clockwise from top: Beth Evans (on right) with fellow artists-in-residence; Beth Evans, Plant Head, 2016, monotype, 18 x 23 cm; Beth Evans, Mask II, 2016, monotype, 18 x 23 cm.

I attended an artist residency during the month of June at the Hungarian Multicultural Center Inc. (HMC), in Budapest. The HMC is a non-profit organisation dedicated to inspiring, connecting and exhibiting artists of all nationalities. The residency is open to visual artists, writers and performers and provides them the opportunity to produce new work while engaging with the arts community in Budapest. During the residency HMC holds artist talks, workshops and presentations, and participants visit a range of exhibitions. Its aim is to provide artists with a supportive community and uninterrupted time to work.

My fellow residents were a young couple Alyssa Dillard and Bret Adams from Texas, USA. I enjoyed their vibrant company immensely and we shared many evening conversations about art and life over a glass of Pálinka in the garden. Upon our arrival, Beata Szechy, artist, curator and executive director of HMC, marked our city maps with cultural sights and places of interest and sent us off to explore Budapest using its wonderful transport system. Beata kindly introduced us to her network of friends, artists, writers and curators at the various gallery openings we attended. Along with her constant canine companion Maxine, she generously took us on many informal tours of the city and surrounding countryside.

Its distinctive blend of the old and the modern makes the city an architectural wonderland. In Budapest you can find 2000-year-old Roman ruins, beautiful Gothic churches, fabulous Renaissance opera houses, lavish Turkish communal baths, grand Baroque palaces, impressive Classical train stations and glorious Art Nouveau architecture. The city is enthralling. It is simultaneously uplifting and down-to-earth, a busy metropolis and at the same time a peaceful haven. We were lucky to be there for ‘The Night of Museums’ held on Midsummer when the many galleries and museums are open from 2 pm until 2.30 am. Around fifty museums, exhibition halls and other venues welcome visitors with art, literary, folk and gastronomy programs. They feature a wide range of children’s programs, which offer both fun and education to the whole family on the longest day of the year. Not only do prominent museums and galleries take part, but also, curious places such as the Hospital in the Rock Museum and the Postal Museum. We also took the opportunity to see Beata’s solo exhibition Könny (v) ek/Tears of Books at the prestigious Petofi Literary Museum. Another highlight of my stay was a visit to the Aquincum Museum and its extensive collection of letterpress and printing presses.

The residency gave me the opportunity to experiment and to explore new directions in my art practice. The informal sessions in the garden, where Beata and I sipped our morning coffee, exchanged ideas and discussed the progress of my work, became a daily ritual which we both enjoyed. I produced a series of monotypes during my stay, two of which were included in the Környezetvédelem/Enviromental Project exhibition curated by Beáta Széchyin and displayed at Galéria 12 Kávézó és Borbár, Budapest, from 24 August to 11 September.

Beth Evans is a printmaker and book artist and works from the Tannery Printmaking Studio in Adelaide.

2016 PCA Print Commission Q&A: Pia Larsen

‘I make art today because I continue to enjoy the challenge of synthesising ideas through materials, process, time and place.’

Why do you make art?

I come from a family for whom making art, and living with art, is a way of life. I grew up in a creative environment and learnt early on how to work with ideas from one state to another. I make art today because I continue to enjoy the challenge of synthesising ideas through materials, process, time and place.

What’s your relationship to printmaking?

I have been using printmedia since childhood and its complexities and qualities have been formative for my work in print and other mediums.

How did you get interested in printmaking?

At Kinma Primary School I had a brilliant art teacher, Angelika. Her approach was non-hierarchical and encompassed sculpture, lino, batik and screenprinting, as well as field trips to places such as Long Reef, where we gathered ‘found objects’ (rubbish) to arrange in a large bed of plaster.

How did you approach making your submission for the PCA Print Commission?

My submission consisted of three works. Two were completed during an artists residency in the US at the Women’s Studio Workshop, October–November 2015. The third image, from 2016, juxtaposes two paper milk carton objects with digital images printed on the surface, also created during the residency. This work plays with scale and uses time and place to explore the geo-politics of the US.

Whose work have you been enjoying lately?

I have been looking at Cindy Sherman’s work and her latest incarnation of female archetypes; Baldessari and David Noonan for their use of overlay and appropriated images; and Kiki Smith as a woman artist who uses a broad range of processes and has interesting things to say about being an artist and the context in which she works and lives.

Where do you go for inspiration?

I look at artists’ work online and visit exhibitions around Sydney and interstate. I read across a range of topics and listen to programs on Radio National that explore philosophy, politics, religion and the day-to-day lives of Australians, and people from around the world.

What are you working on now?

I’m working on bottle objects in paper with watercolour/gouache that reference the US flag, its colours, pattern and potent symbolism. They will be exhibited in a group show with Charles Cooper and others, to coincide with the outcome of the US election in November, at SLOT Space in Redfern, Sydney.

To view this year’s commission prints visit the PCA website, pick up a copy of the spring 2016 issue of Imprint (Vol. 51 No. 3), or visit one of the participating venue galleries listed below:

David Ferry: The Gentle Flavours of Surrealist Chewing Gum

Images from top, left to right: David Ferry, Canterbury Cathedral, 2010, digital archive print, 42 x 59.5 cm; Westminster Abbey, 2010, digital archive print, 42 x 59.5 cm; Ely Cathedral, 2010, digital archive print, 42 x 59.5 cm; Princes Street, Edinburgh, 2010, digital archive print, 42 x 59.5 cm; The Langton Arms, 2010 digital archive print, 42 x 59.5 cm.

In the lead up to the exhibition David Ferry: The Invader’s Guide to the British Isles at The Post Office Gallery, Federation University, Ballarat, UK artist Professor David Ferry will present a lecture hosted by the PCA at the Fitzroy Town Hall next Thursday (see details below). In the following essay, which will also form part of the exhibition catalogue for The Invader’s Guide to the British Isles, writer and lecturer Stephen Clarke discusses Ferry’s Belligerent Rock Intrusions.

One late evening in summer in a large, quiet barn, the artist David Ferry screened the film The Devils (1971) for a small group of friends. As the night closed in, and the air became ever cooler, the film heated up to reach its crescendo with the burning of Oliver Reed and the destruction of the fortification of Loudun. Set in seventeenth-century France, the controversial film by the English director Ken Russell mixes violence, religion and sex, including an orgy scene in which the crucifix is defiled by disrobed nuns.

Ferry considers the act of defilement as central to his art practice and he revels in comedic drama to colour his images. His core subject and source material are the inoffensive picture-book guides that fill the shelves of high-street charity shops. These books offer an innocent perspective on British life, emphasising a shared national heritage that appeals to genteel middle-class tastes. Ferry defiles these scenes in the manner that a small boy pees in the municipal swimming pool. Slight alterations by the addition of material alien to an existing image result in a change of flavour. Unlike the explicit drama of Russell’s violent depiction of the crucifix attacked, the purity of the picture-book scene is desecrated by permissive intrusion.

Ferry is conscious of this tactic of alterations made to books. It has its roots in the Surrealist movement but is also employed by British satirists. Notable examples that Ferry refers to are the books altered by Joe Orton (1933-1967) and Kenneth Halliwell (1926-1967). They had smuggled books out of their local public library, modified the covers, and then returned them to the shelves to be found by the unwary. For the text on the dust jacket of one book they typed: ‘READ THIS BEHIND CLOSED DOORS! And have a good shit while you are reading!’.[1] Foul taste becomes a weapon against propriety. In 1962, following their admission of damaging more than seventy books, the pair were jailed for six months. Officially, their actions had been judged vandalism; historically, these altered book covers have become artistic interventions collected and exhibited.[2]

Montage and vandalism are close bedfellows. A common sight on city streets are billboard posters defaced by chewing gum. These are casual intrusions made by the passerby who takes the masticated substance from their mouth to stick to the surface of a photograph. The gum, now imbued with the saliva trace of the monteur, has a less desirable flavour and this is part of its visceral impact. The small, hard rocks eventually lose their adhesion: intent and act are cursory. Ferry’s Belligerent Rock Intrusions have more longevity. In the series of prints made from his altered book, images and text from guides to rock climbing collide with pictures from a tranquil British scene.[3] Offence is not to be found with either the intruding rocks or the place where they land, unlike the additions made by Orton and Halliwell, and the gum-chewing public: the concoction remains palatable. Ferry’s intention is not to shatter national identity and heritage with a brick but instead instigate questioning through humorous intervention.

Zealous intervention can be rewarded with crushing consequences. In an effort to rid the village of Avebury of rocky inhabitants, a medieval Barber-Surgeon was crushed to death by a particular belligerent rock under which he lay for six hundred years. Avebury’s Neolithic stone monuments – already ancient when the Romans invaded Britain – were by the tenth century considered intruding megaliths. Their destruction and desecration wasn’t halted until the introduction of Sir John Lubbock’s Ancient Monuments Act of 1882;[4] and their preservation was only secured when archaeologist Alexander Keiller purchased the site in 1934.[5] Within a decade, Keiller had re-erected stones, created a museum, and arranged for the National Trust to take over as custodians.[6] These rocks, now no longer intrusions, are instead the foundations of British heritage with previous actions towards them being deemed vandalism. Today’s intruders are the tourists who pay for their visit through car-parking charges, admission prices to the Trust’s properties and, of course, obligatory sweet-tasting ice creams.

Conscious of the invasion of modern tourism, the National Trust has limited the number of souvenir shops in an effort to curtail the appetite of the commercial maw that the stones represent. But, the gamekeeper becomes poacher as the Trust that protects heritage fills its own purse. Although access to Avebury is free, visitors still pay a price. This is more apparent at neighbouring Stonehenge where access is strictly controlled. In her book Our Forbidden Land (1990), the photographer Fay Godwin recalls that her request to English Heritage for permission to photograph Stonehenge over a period of time was allowed on condition that she pay a fee of £200 per visit.[7] It is this payment to get into heritage sites that Ferry’s series of prints, Belligerent Rock Intrusions, questions. His solution is that the visitor can learn to climb into, and onto, the heritage site.[8] Humour belies a fundamental concern which is whether our national heritage is a right or a commodity. His photomontages are acts of trespass, and yet the host accommodates the invader. Unlike the unfortunate Barber-Surgeon who was felled by the stone, Ferry’s climbers cling to the surface immersed in embrace.

The Barber-Surgeon resurfaced again in the 1977 television programme Children of the Stones that was filmed at Avebury. Recast as a poacher named Dai, the Barber-Surgeon is killed off in the same manner as his medieval counterpart. In this production the village, renamed Milbury, is trapped within a time circle where events are continuously repeated. This stagnation is reinforced in the climax to the drama as the villagers meet a petrifying fate: they are actually turned to stone. The wards of the Heritage Industry may have been cast the same fate. In an effort to protect the fabric of the past, a place and its people undergo a process of petrifaction.

Paul Nash (1889-1946), an artist influential upon Ferry, addressed an appeal to the past while paying attention to the advances of the present. By the mid-1930s Nash’s work became a blend of abstraction and surrealism that interpreted motifs from the past. He had a particular interest in the stone circles of the south of England and was given a tour of the Avebury site by Alexander Keiller.[9] The artist depicted the ‘Landscape of the Megaliths’ although his interest was not in archaeology, history or religion, rather the stones served as formal pointers for modern painting.[10] For Nash the stones were not petrified remnants but objects that had current purchase. Avoiding choking on the dust of the past, whilst trying to picture the national heritage, is a hazard of which the contemporary British artist must be wary. Ferry’s attempt to reinvigorate this landscape is to use the Nation’s own compost: Orton and Halliwell’s shit becomes fruitful manure. Ferry refers to this approach – the use of pre-existing photographic images from second-hand books – as ‘re-re-cycling [sic]’. [11] Like Nash, Ferry revisits a past to propose a new surreal landscape, one where the rocks assert their presence and the inhabitants negotiate this new territory with the textual guidance from experienced climbers.

Reference to Nash and British Surrealism is a conscious decision in Ferry’s practice; his predecessors are the veteran climbers who show him where to find his grip. The barn where Ferry shared an evening with The Devils was sited at The Rodd, the farm on the border of England and Wales where the Australian artist Sidney Nolan (1917–1992) had settled in 1983.[12] Nolan was an unexpected resident in this location: he was out-of-place. This ‘angry penguin’, a surrealist from hotter climes, was noted for his depictions of the Australian outback and the anti-hero Ned Kelly.[13] Kelly, the bushranger, became famous for his use of homemade armour that crudely resembled the attire of a European knight. This mêlée of penguins and knights in the desert is transferred to the quiet of a rural town sandwiched between two countries. What should not be there finds a home. It is this ‘out-of-place’ quality that exemplifies Ferry’s practice. The defilement that he relishes is mischievous tampering by the addition of that something extra. Vandalism, trespass and indifference are implied by the title Belligerent Rock Intrusions, but it is agreeable synthesis that Ferry’s montages create. Much like Blackpool rock, the hard-boiled confectionary stick manufactured in Ferry’s hometown, the best way to consume national heritage might be to gently suck rather than vigorously bite.

Notes

[1] Quoted from the defaced flyleaf of Clouds of Witness by Dorothy L. Sayers, altered 1959-1962. The collaged book forms part of The Joe Orton Collection at Islington Local History Centre, London.

[2] Orton and Halliwell’s local library was Islington Public Library. An exhibition at Islington Museum in 2011-12 titled Malicious Damage: The life and crimes of Joe Orton and Kenneth Halliwell in Islington displayed some of the altered books.

[3] The altered book is titled, David Ferry’s Britain in Colour with Belligerent Rock Intrusions mainly in Black and White (2006).

[4] Caroline Malone, Avebury (London: Batsford/English Heritage, 1989), pp. 122-23.

[5] Ibid., p. 126.

[6] Ibid., pp. 126-131.

[7] Eventually the fee was waived but Godwin was permitted only one visit. See: Fay Godwin, Our Forbidden Land (London: Jonathan Cape, 1990), p. 23.

[8] Ferry’s first exhibition of prints from Belligerent Rock Intrusions was titled: Climbing Over Britain (Impact 6 International Printmaking Conference, 2009).

[9] Keiller gave Nash a guided tour of Avebury in 1938. See: Sam Smiles, ‘Ancient Country: Nash and Prehistory’, in Paul Nash: Modern Artist, Ancient Landscape, ed. Jemima Montagu (London: Tate, 2003), pp. 31-37.

[10] Ibid., pp. 31-37.

[11] David Ferry, email to the author, 8 October 2012.

[12] The Rodd in Presteigne, Wales is the site of the Sidney Nolan Trust. Members of The Cardiff Sessions printmaking collective were based at The Rodd, producing collaborative lithographs for their exhibition at the Sidney Nolan Trust in August 2013, when the film was screened. David Ferry is a printmaking consultant to the Sidney Nolan Trust.

[13] Sidney Nolan was part of the movement Angry Penguins that sought to shake up the cultural establishment in 1940s Australia.

This essay has been produced for the occasion of the exhibition David Ferry: The Invader’s Guide to the British Isles, 26 October – 19 November 2016, at the Post Office Gallery, Federation University Australia, Ballarat.

Belligerent Rock Intrusions has been exhibited at: Woodfinch Gallery/Simon Finch Rare Books (in association with The National Print Gallery), London, 2010; Impact 6, University of the West of England (UWE), Bristol, 2009.

The altered book, David Ferry’s Britain in Colour with Belligerent Rock Intrusions mainly in Black and White (2008), was purchased by the Jack Ginsberg Artists’ Books Collection, Johannesburg in 2012.

Stephen Clarke is an artist, writer and lecturer based in the North West of England.

2016 PCA Print Commission Q&A: Heather Kunjarra Koowootha

‘I showed my drawings to printmaker Theo Tremblay three years ago and he invited me to make prints with him. I saw prints by the artists at Canopy Arts (in Cairns) and was curious how they were made.’

Why do you make art?

I have to make some artwork because it’s a whole new journey through life experience.

What’s your relationship to printmaking?

I became interested in printmaking because it allows me a full range of tones, textures and fine detail. I am beginning to work with colour and I can try different colours and see how they work in with my ideas.

How did you get interested in printmaking?

I showed my drawings to printmaker Theo Tremblay three years ago and he invited me to make prints with him. I saw prints by the artists at Canopy Arts (in Cairns) and was curious how they were made.

How did you approach making your submission for the PCA Print Commission?

I was working on this print about the history of my mother’s people and how they were forcibly removed from Fitzroy island, near Cairns, the missionaries burning the village to force them to the boats to take them to the mainland, and Mr Tremblay suggested I send a proof to the PCA for consideration. I was overjoyed when they accepted it, because, after all it is a very personal statement.

Whose work have you been enjoying lately? Where do you go for inspiration?

Foreign artists, represented in art galleries in Cairns, and artists I come in contact with. I live in a remote area of Queensland and look forward to big exhibitions like Inkfest at the Tanks Art Centre in Cairns, like what we just had recently. I am inspired by North Queensland Indigenous works by artists such as Paul Bong, Sid Bruce Shortjoe and Mylene Holroyd. They are doing etchings and it encourages me to keep going. I also get inspired by stories from my elders and childhood memories.

What are you working on now?

I’m working up a series of drypoints on Perspex about a colonial battle which took place in Yarrabah, where my great-grandfather, Tobias, was a war hero. I’m also working on some small etchings making fun of racist politicians.

Congratulations to Heather Kunjarra Koowootha who received the Indigenous Artist Award as part of this year’s commission.

To view this year’s commission prints visit the PCA website, pick up a copy of the spring 2016 issue of Imprint (Vol. 51 No. 3), or visit one of the participating venue galleries listed below:

From Dreamtime to Machine Time

Above: the article as it first appeared in Imprint Vol. 21 No. 3–4, 1986, pages 6–14.

‘Within the first weeks of taking office, the Government established a Department of Aboriginal Affairs, set up an enquiry to ascertain how Aboriginal land should be returned to its people, withdrew Australian forces from Vietnam, endorsed the principle of equal pay for women and increased funding for the arts. It was within this affirmative context, and with the desire to preserve and promote their visual culture and to achieve financial independence, that Aboriginals began experimenting with printmaking.’

Cover for Imprint Vol. 21 No. 3–4, 1986, featuring Johnny Bulun Bulun’s Goonoomoo, 1983, lithograph, 56 x 37.8 cm.

The following article was written thirty years ago by former Imprint editor Roger Butler, Senior Curator of Australian Prints, Drawings and Illustrated books at the National Gallery of Australia, and published in Imprint Vol. 21 No. 3–4, 1986. This was the first themed issue of Imprint and was devoted to the work of Aboriginal artists. This article was also the first overview of Aboriginal printmaking ever published.

From Dreamtime to Machine Time [1]

It is not by chance that Australian Aborigines began to produce prints in the early 1970s. The need to preserve and promote the rich traditions of their visual culture has laid the foundation of a vital new form of artistic expression. The emergence of prints by Aborigines must be seen in the context of their demands for self determination, the politics of the counter culture, and the development of printmaking in Australia in the 1970s.

For some forty thousand years Aboriginal people have inhabited the continent of Australia, each having a clan and totemic relationship to a particular place where their ancestors came from in the Dreaming, and where their spirit will reside after death.

For the Aboriginal people land is a dynamic notion; it is something that is creative … Land is the generation point of existence; it’s the spirit from which Aboriginal existence comes. It’s a place, a living thing made up of sky, of clouds, of rivers, of trees, of the wind, of the sand, and of the Spirit that has created all those things; the Spirit that has planted my own spirit there, my own country … It belongs to me; I belong to the land; I rest in it; I come from there.[2]

With the European invasion of Australia in 1788, the Aborigines were systematically dispossessed of their land which not only stripped them of their traditional sources of food but also struck at the very heart of their culture. Added to this was the breaking up of clan groups by consecutive government policies of integration. Although there was a continuous struggle for the recognition of Aboriginal rights, it was not until the 1960s that the modern Land Rights movement began.

On 28 August 1963 the Yirrkala people presented a petition to the House of Representatives. Written in their own language on bark, it requested that a special committee be set up to hear their views before granting of mining rights on the Gove Peninsula. They finally issued a Supreme Court writ against Nabalco, but the Court found that, although the Aboriginals had established a spiritual relationship with the land, they could not successfully claim it under common law.

By 1971 when this decision was passed down, there had emerged a generation of Australians who supported Aboriginal Land Rights; they were the children of the post-war baby boom who reached maturity in the late 1960s. Affluent and well educated, they often did not hold the same values as their parents. Searching for more enduring values than the rampant materialism which had flourished in the 1950s, they challenged conventions and embraced alternative lifestyles.

Major issues at that time were the end of the Vietnam war and the use of nuclear power; women’s and gay liberation; conservation and Aboriginal Land Rights. Some people sought to ‘opt out’ of the system, to return to the land and self-sufficiency, others embraced esoteric religions. Cheap overseas flights made the ‘global village’ a reality, while the relaxation of the ‘white Australia policy’ and the introduction of Asian students, all contributed to an increased awareness by Australians of this country’s multicultural make-up.

Alternatives were also being sought in the art world. Painting, particularly ‘hard edge’ colour abstraction imported from America, was rejected as ‘bank art’ – decoration for a capitalist society. Rather, it was unsaleable, ephemeral or democratic art forms that were taken up. Earthwork sculpture, ritual-like performance art, community-based co-operative projects, video, photography and printmaking became the most vital areas of activity.

Printmaking facilities were established in schools and commercial print workshops opened. Screenprinting was particularly popular, due to the inexpensive equipment needed, and the ability to produce multi-colour prints. The cheapness and ‘contemporary look’ of screenprints also led to their adoption by political artists.

These diverse elements came together in 1972. The Aboriginal Tent Embassy was set up on the lawns in front of Parliament House in Canberra; Papunya Tula Artists Pty Ltd was established at Papunya in Central Australia and Ernabella Arts Inc in Alice Springs; the Australian Union of Students began planning the Aquarius back-to-earth festival at Nimbin, New South Wales; the Australian Prints exhibition was held in London; the Earthworks Poster Collective was formed in Sydney; and in December 1972 a Labor Government, the first for twenty-three years, was voted into power.

Within the first weeks of taking office, the Government established a Department of Aboriginal Affairs, set up an enquiry to ascertain how Aboriginal land should be returned to its people, withdrew Australian forces from Vietnam, endorsed the principle of equal pay for women and increased funding for the arts. It was within this affirmative context, and with the desire to preserve and promote their visual culture and to achieve financial independence, that Aboriginals began experimenting with printmaking.

 

A continuing tradition

Australian Aborigines have no tradition in printmaking processes, other than the stencilled images (usually of hands) that are to be found on cave walls throughout Australia. Printmaking techniques have been acquired, initially, from school-teachers, craft advisors, or from white artists.

Some of the earliest Aboriginal prints were produced by Bede Tungutalum at Nguiu, Bathurst Island, some one-hundred kilometres from Darwin. The open sea which separates Bathurst Island and its neighbour, Melville Island, from Northern Australia, has led to the development of a culture distinct from the mainland. The Tiwi people are renowned for their singers, songwriters, dances, and their carved and painted wooden sculptures. Bede Tungutalum learnt the rudiments of woodblock cutting and printing from Madeline Clair, the local art teacher, and in 1970, together with Giovanni Tipungwuti, he established Tiwi Designs. Their woodblock prints of the early 1970s often resemble Tiwi carved designs and stress the interdependence of the different crafts. Birds such as that depicted in Tipungwuti’s Tiwi Bird Design feature in many Tiwi creation stories. By 1983 Tiwi Designs concentrated on screenprinted fabrics and employed seven workers.[3]

One of the printers was Ray Young, originally a member of Earthworks Poster Collective, and later a craft adviser to the area. The latter position was also once held by Colin Little, the founder of Earthworks, demonstrating the parallel concerns between workshops like Tiwi Designs and the political postermakers of the 1970s.

Other early examples are from Galiwinku (Elcho Island), which is well to the east of Darwin. Here there was a strong local tradition involving the engraving of designs on wooden smoking pipes. In 1971 John Rudder, who worked at the mission, provided Monydjirri, Charlie Matjuwi and Botu with lino blocks of a colour similar to the ochre Elcho Islanders painted onto the wood before engraving their designs. The designs they cut were on the same small scale as those on the pipes. Printmaking did not develop within the community, and the blocks were not printed until over a decade later.[4]

Non Aboriginal artists frequently initiated such isolated experiments. In early 1970 printmaking had been introduced to both Nigeria and New Guinea in this way.[5] In 1976, while visiting Arnhem Land, Jörg Schmeisser (Head of Printmaking Department, Canberra School of Art) traded information with Albert, an Aborigine of the area. Schmeisser demonstrated how prints were produced, and Albert demonstrated the preparation of bark for painting. This exchange resulted in Albert’s production of a small drypoint of animals, emu and fish, an impression of which is now in the Australian National Gallery collection.

In 1978 Schmeisser also worked with a now deceased Aboriginal artist and his sons while they were artists-in-residence at the Australian National University. They drew their images directly onto the zinc plates using lithographic crayon as a resist, (and in one example line etching) which were then etched and printed. Although the reversal of the images was unexpected by the artists, they were satisfied with prints like Bandicoots and viewed them as an interesting excursion into another medium, but one they found no need to pursue.[6]

The first products of the new-style Aboriginal art to become widely known in Australia, were paintings in acrylic on board or canvas from the central desert area of Papunya, three-hundred miles west of Alice Springs. In 1972, the Papunya Tula Artists Pty Ltd was founded to distribute and promote the paintings from the area. The production of prints was fostered by commissions given to already successful painters.

In 1978, Dinny Nolan Jampijinpa, a leading member of the Anmajera tribe from the central desert area, was commissioned by the Canadian Government to produce a print for the Commonwealth Print Portfolio. An artist from each country competing in the XI Commonwealth Games was flown to the University of Alberta, Canada, to produce the prints. Australian officials did not think Dinny would ‘be able to handle it’. Instead Lyndal Osborne, the co-ordinator of the project, flew from Canada to Melbourne where Dinny spent two weeks working at the Victorian College of the Arts under the supervision of Bea Maddock (‘Boss woman’). Dinny drew his design directly onto five lithographic plates that were then proofed by Osborne. Maddock remembers Dinny’s first reaction to the finished prints coming off the press; he considered them to be ‘white man’s art’ but later seemed happy with them. The final printing was done in Canada, but due to difficulties in printing, two of the lithographic plates were converted to screenprints.

The only other image in the Commonwealth Print Portfolio not produced at the University of Alberta was by Kenojuah, an Inuit (Canadian Eskimo) artist.[7] Like the Australian Aborigines, the Inuit people have no tradition of printmaking. But since 1958, when relief printing techniques were introduced to them, the Inuit have rediscovered their artistic heritage of stories and images. A strong market for Inuit art has developed enabling many of the artists to achieve financial independence. Inuit prints have been distributed through the Canadian Eskimo Arts Council since 1965 and exhibited in Australia in the early 1970s.[8]

It is likely that the success of such models influenced the Aboriginal Artists Agency (established in 1978) to produce a set of six screenprints by artists from the Western Desert. The project was initiated by David Rankin, director of the print publishers Port Jackson Press and Anthony Wallis, manager of the agency. The two artists selected for the 1979 project were Johnny Bulun Bulun and David Milaybuma, both from the Maningrida area of West Arnhem Land. They were flown to Melbourne and stayed at the Windsor Hotel while they worked at Mal Studio with the screenprinter Larry Rawlings.

In their bark paintings, both artists work in a traditional manner systematically applying one colour at a time to build up the easily recognisable images of the animal and plant forms of their region. A similar procedure was used in creating the screenprints with the artists sitting on the floor and applying block-out directly onto the screens with a twig brush. A proof of the first colour was printed, the second screen placed over it and the second colour drawn. The process was continued until the image was complete. The screens were then printed in thick matt inks mixed to match the samples of traditional earth pigments the artists had brought with them. The editions of 90 were then signed by the artists.

These were the first prints produced by Aborigines that were marketed widely. Colour brochures were sent to twenty-two thousand American Express card holders, but despite this wide publicity only fifty-four prints sold; the most popular being those like Bulun Bulun’s Flying Foxes. They were then distributed through regular Port Jackson Press outlets and later the Aboriginal Artists Agency. A second set of three prints by Willi Tjungurrayi, working collaboratively with his brother, Charlie of the Pintubi Tribe from the Western Desert, was printed in 1981 – Bandicoot ancestors fighting over fire at Taltaltanya is a typical example.[9]

Johnny Bulun Bulun is of the Ganulpuynga clan of Central Arnhem Land, and a supporter of the Out Station movement whereby Aboriginal people return to their ancestral lands and teach traditional values to the young. Bulun Bulun has moved his own family from the main Government town of Maningrida to establish his own settlement at Gamedi. Though living in this remote area, he travels to other States to promote Aboriginal work at exhibitions and to attend conferences. In 1983, he attended exhibitions in Canberra in July and December and on his second visit once more experimented in printmaking.

Theo Tremblay, Lecturer in Drawing and Printmaking, was instrumental in making the facilities and expertise of the print workshop of the Canberra School of Art available to Aboriginal artists. The lithographic process proved an ideal method of working for Bulun Bulun. His print Goonoomoo has a sensitivity that seems lacking in his earlier screenprints. Perhaps the process of working on stone – creating the design by a combination of painting then scratching in the cross-hatching – had more affinity with traditional modes of work than drawing onto acetate overlays.[10]

Joe Croft, who acted as publisher, also arranged for England Bangala to work with Tremblay at this time. Bangala was born at Gochan-Jiny-Jirra, near Maningrida, West Arnhem Land, and is an important ceremonial person of the Gunardba tribe. This collaboration resulted in two lithographs.[11]

The Second Briennial Conference of the Institute of Aboriginal Studies held in Canberra at the Australian National Gallery in May 1984, brought together large numbers of Aboriginal artists, craft advisers, teachers, historians and anthropologists. It was the venue for much trading of information. Banduk Marika was one Aboriginal artist who attended the conference and her meeting with Tremblay resulted in her being appointed artist-in-residence at the Canberra School of Art later that year.

Marika was born in 1954 at Yirrkala Mission, near Gove in Eastern Arnhem Land, and moved to Sydney in 1973 (at about the same time that Nabalco started mining). After a time in Darwin and a broken marriage, she returned to Sydney in 1980 and began painting. With the support of Jennifer Isaacs she began to produce linocuts, the technique she is primarily known for today (although she has also worked successfully in lithography). The cutting of her blocks is closely linked with the engraving of designs on wood, common to people along the coast of North Eastern Arnhem Land. Marika first exhibited during the Women’s Art Festival in Sydney in 1982 where, together with Isaacs, she collected and presented an exhibition of Aboriginal women’s craft work.[12]

Western society has marginalised women’s art including that produced by Aborigines. It is slowly being acknowledged by Europeans that Aboriginal women, due to their relationship to the Dreaming, are the custodians of certain ceremonies, stories, music, dances and images. If Aboriginal women have been acknowledged at all in the arts it has been for functional wares. Baskets and string bags, often woven in intricate patterns or decorated, have been produced by women since the Dreaming. More recently the art of fabric dyeing has been introduced, the best known being the batik fabrics produced at Ernablla since 1972. In 1980, the Pitjantjatjara Women’s Council was established, and Aboriginal Women’s Arts Exhibitions held. However, encouragement for Aboriginal women to produce paintings and prints has been relatively slow.

The only community to promote women printmakers is at Indulkana. Situated in the north west of South Australia it is a settlement of about two hundred and fifty Pitjantjatjara and Yankuntjatjara people. The linocut process was introduced to the community in 1982, by a Flinders University student, Adrian Marrie, and since then many women have been producing prints. Initially, the prints were monochrome, but now multicolour works are also produced. The introduction of an old proofing press has speeded printing. In 1983, an exhibition of linocuts by Lippsie Everard, Kanakiya, Josie McArthur, Eileen King, Suzie Presley, Sylvia Derose, Margo Brown, Sadie Singer and Joanne Winjin was held at the Women’s Art Movement Gallery in Adelaide.[13]

In Western Australia a number of Aboriginal artists have made their first prints at classes run through the Prisons Department Art Programme at Fremantle. Linocut printing has been taught since 1979, and from 1984 etching. The workshop is currently run by Steven Culley and David Wroth. Some Aboriginal artists trained at the centre are now producing work on outstations, and other Aborigines are learning the processes from them.[14]

As with the Indulkana community the prints cross cultural styles. Some images are traditional, some are in a western manner, others a mixture of the two. Prints by Jimmy Pike have been exhibited widely in Australia over the last two years and he is the best known of the Western Australian group.[15] Born in the Great Sandy Desert, Pike’s early life was spent as a member of a nomadic group, with his family living in a traditional style, hunting, gathering and moving according to the seasons. Later when his family moved north he began working as a stockman in the Fitzroy Valley.

In 1980, while at Fremantle, Pike began to paint, drawing upon the lore of his ancestral country and the stories he had absorbed as a youth. He mostly works in the simple linocut technique but engraves his blocks with such vigour that they are in danger of breaking up. For this reason most of Pike’s prints have been transferred to screenprints for editioning. Some such as Mirnmirt, are translations of traditional sand drawings while other prints have more recent events as their subjects. Jarlujangka Wangki deals with irresponsible bomb-dropping exercises held in the desert during the Second World War. The non-traditional subject matter produces a corresponding change in imagery. Since 1985 Pike has also produced colour screenprints.

Dennis Phillips Deeaggidditt was born in Leonora, four hundred kilometres north-east of Perth. His linocut The Blind Man tells one of the stories of his people, some of which have been passed on to him by his great grandfather. Mervyn Street, another Aboriginal artist who has worked at Fremantle, has also recently begun making linocuts based on traditional stories.

One of the few traditional Aboriginal artists to produce etchings is Martin Dougal, from the Broome area. His paintings, etchings and linocuts convey the intensity of light, colour and heat found in ‘the breakaway country’.

Another innovative project being undertaken by the Western Australian Aboriginal artists is the illustration of the story The Girl who danced with Brolgas. Jackie McArthur, Dennis Phillips, Wilbur Porter and Jimmy Pike – all artists from different areas – have pooled their feelings about this particular story and their land and expressed them in a series of monotypes, which will be published shortly in book form.

 

Urban Koories

In her introduction to Koori Art ’84 the Aboriginal rights activist Bobbi Sykes commented that

While the world would rather think of Aboriginal artists as frozen in the pre-Cook era, contemporary black artists confront the conscience of the global public with images of our modern reality … this provides the black artists with their subject matter, and, often their means.[16]

Koori art is produced by urban Aboriginals who are often trained in western traditions but, as Sykes notes, have ‘one foot firmly in each world’.

Most of the urban Koories are younger artists (born in the 1950s or early 1960s) who grew up after the breakdown of the government’s ‘assimilate at all costs’ policy. But the distinction between traditional and Koori art is not hard and fast; for instance Banduk Marika, whose traditional prints have already been discussed, lives in Sydney. She exhibited in Koori Art ’84 as did Ernabella Arts Inc, Alice Springs, which promotes Pitjantjatjara women’s art.

It is not always easy for Koori artists, much criticism coming from within Aboriginal society. Some are criticised for not being the rightful owners of the images they use and are sometimes regarded as little more than fashionable image scavengers.

Raymond Meeks was born in Sydney in 1957 and after gaining a Certificate of Art in Queensland, completed his Diploma and post-graduate studies at Alexander Mackie College of Advanced Education in Sydney. He was awarded his Bachelor of Arts from City Art Institute, Sydney, in 1984. Although primarily a painter and printmaker, Meeks has also produced illustrations for the Aboriginal newspaper AIM, posters for Koori Art ’84 and Jack Davis’ play Honey Spot, and he was commissioned by Australia Post to design the Australia Day stamp for 1986.[17] His linocut Mimi displays the crisp cut and the immediacy that he likes in this technique. It also shows his use of often familiar Aboriginal motifs from different tribal areas. He explains, ‘I am obsessed by that imagery – Papunya, Maningrida, Yirrkala. I am trying to blend them because it works for me. I am hunting for lost pieces of myself.’[18]

The Koori art movement is strongest in Sydney. Fiona Foley, born 1964, studied at East Sydney Technical College, and Sydney College of Arts. During 1983 she was a visiting student at St Martin’s School of Art, London, and on her return to Australia worked as an assistant at Max Miller’s printing workshop in Sydney. She has frequently produced etchings that have been printed in a monotype manner. Sea Shells on the Sea Shore is typical, with the realistically depicted shells floating over a nebulous background of sand, sea, spray and stars.[19]

In 1985 Foley travelled to Aboriginal communities at Bathurst Island and Raminginging in Arnhem Land, where she developed a few drawings which she would later use for etchings. ‘Watching the freeness of the children paint and the political subject matter they painted has also enabled me to feel free to choose topics and styles in which I can depict another view on Australian history.’[20]

 

Political posters

The political poster has been the main vehicle for overt political statements by Aboriginal printmakers. In this respect they take over the work begun by the Earthworks Poster Collective and others who produced posters demanding Aboriginal Rights in the 1970s, some of whom are still active in this field. Ray Young works at Tiwi Designs, Marie McMahon has worked for Mimi Arts and Crafts in Katherine, and Chips MacKinolty works for Jalak Graphics in the Northern Territory.

Avril Quail, a 1985 graduate of the Sydney College of the Arts, participated in the first Truth Rules OK?, a national touring exhibition of socially/politically orientated posters. Her screenprint No Tresspassers – Keep Out was produced at the Tin Sheds, University of Sydney, where the Earthworks Poster Collective originated. In Koori Art ’84 she exhibited a linocut portrait of a Christian and a screenprint Wulula, My Mother’s Land. More recently she has been working on a mural at The Settlement in Chippendale, an inner Sydney suburb.[21]

Community-based screenprinting workshops and projects have given many artists the opportunity to produce posters. Alice Hinton-Bateup was first employed by Garage Graphix in 1983 under the Wage Pause Programme and later under the CEP Scheme. She was able to continue her work in 1985 when the workshop received grants from the Aboriginal Arts Board. She has worked closely with the local Koori community, printing t-shirts, calendars, jigsaw puzzles and posters.[22] Dispossessed and Lost Heritage, both colour screenprints combining hand drawn and photo images, focus on the Aborigines’ loss of rightful heritage as they are distanced from their traditional land.

This theme of loss is also evident in the work of Byron Pickett. Originally from Western Australia, Pickett was appointed a trainee community artist with the Eyre Peninsula Cultural Trust from August 1984 to July 1985. His position was funded by the National Employment Strategy for Aboriginals and the Aboriginal Arts Board. During his period of training Pickett worked with many groups including Port Lincoln school students, the Community College, Port Lincoln Prison and Adult Aboriginal classes.

Research for his prints took Pickett to Adelaide, Port Augusta and the Flinders Ranges where he studied photographs and books and talked to many Aborigines. His colour screenprints often combine photographic imagery with text. Family painfully describes the dilemma of many Aboriginals.

In all these political posters the recurring theme is the loss of, and the need to protect, Aboriginal land. This is not surprising considering how little has been achieved since the Land Rights proposal of 1972.

Compared to the number of Aboriginal artists producing paintings on bark or canvas, there are only a few who have so far worked as printmakers. However, the very nature of printmaking – its ability to replicate an image – has enabled these few to reach a wide audience. Prints using traditional images, those produced by Koori artists, and political posters, will all contribute to the increasing self-determination of the Aboriginal people.

 

Notes

[1] The title of this article is taken from Trevor Nickolls’ exhibition From Dreamtime to Machine Time, Canberra Theatre Gallery, 1974. Nickolls is a Koori artist presently living in Sydney.

[2] Father Pat Dodson, ‘MSC in Report of the Third Annual Queensland Conference of the Aboriginal and Islanders Catholic Council of Australia’, January 1976: 16, quoted in Lorna Lippmann Generations of Resistance, Melbourne, Longmans Cheshire, 1981, p.46.

[3] See Adrian Newstead, ‘Tiwi Aboriginal Designs’ in Craft Australia, Spring 1983. Tiwi Designs, Sydney, Hogarth Galleries, 1982. Bede Tungutalum exhibited 2 woodcuts in the Print Council of Australia’s Second Western Pacific Biennale, 1978.

[4] Information from Theo Tremblay who also printed the blocks.

[5] Jean Kennedy, ‘Printmaking in New Guinea’ in Artists Proof, Vol. 11, 1971; for Printmaking in Nigeria, see ibid., Vol. 7, 1967. It might also be noted that the best known American Indian artist Fritz Scholder began making prints in 1970. See Clinton Adams, Fritz Scholder, Lithographs, Boston, New York Graphic Society, 1975.

[6] Information from Jörg Schmeisser, who printed the plates.

[7] Discussions with Anthony Wallis and Bea Maddock, August 1986. See also brochure accompanying Commonwealth Print Portfolio, This was supplied to me by Anthony Wallis.

[8] See Ernst Roch (ed.), Arts of the Eskimo: Prints, Montreal, Signum Press.

[9] Telephone interview with David Rankin, August 1986.

[10] Theo Tremblay has supplied the following details of this lithograph’s production:

Hand printed stone lithograph. Johnny applied gum acacia to areas designated white first. He then applied oleified bitumen in areas designated black. Finally a tone was created by air brushing the bitumen into areas traditionally reserved for areas of tone such as yellow ochre. An edition of fifty was printed onto Fabriano No. 5, 300 gsm cotton paper, as were five additional proofs reserved for the printers, the print workshop collection, and Joe Croft, publisher. An additional five proofs were pulled on bleached bullrush paper, made by Gaynor Cardew especially for the project.

[11] Discussions with Theo Tremblay, 1986.

[12] Biographical information derived from Urban Koories, Sydney, Workshop Arts Centre, 1986, and conversations with the artist.

[13] For information on the Indulkana community see the article by Janet Maughan on pages 16–17 of this issue. See also Minymaku Council Kulintja, Alice Springs, Pitjantjatjara Women’s Council, No. 1, 1985; Setting the Pace, Adelaide Women’s Art Movement, 1984; ‘Aboriginal Women: Ritual and Culture’, Diane Bell. Interviewed by Lesley Dumbrell in Lip 1978/79, Melbourne, 1979, pp. 5-9.

[14] Information about this Western Australia group of artists was provided by Steven Culley and David Wroth.

[15] See Jimmy Pike, his art and stories, Perth, Desert Prints, 1985.

[16] Bobbi Sykes introduction to Koori Art ’84, Sydney, Artspace, 1984.

[17] See Stamp Bulletin – Australia, Melbourne, No. 182, January 1986.

[18] Quoted in Urban Koories, Sydney, Workshop Arts Centre, 1986.

[19] Illustrated in Koori Art ’84, Sydney, Artspace, 1984.

[20] Urban Koories, Sydney, Workshop Arts Centre, 1986.

[21] Biographical information derived from Koori Art ’84 (where her work is illustrated) and conversations with the artist.

[22] Urban Koories, Sydney, Workshop Arts Centre, 1986.